Google Stadia Could Solve One of Chromecast’s Biggest Problems

"Ok Google, how do you fix this?"

Google is making a big push for the living room, but its fundamental strategy has a big, Chromecast-shaped problem. Google Stadia, its upcoming video game streaming service, may offer a path forward.

Unlike most TV devices (Amazon, Apple TV, Roku), Chromecast doesn’t have a remote. Chromecast is designed to stream content from a smartphone wirelessly, calling up content from your phone’s Netflix app, for example, and beaming it to your TV. On Google’s Android operating system, it also offers full-screen mirroring.

When the $35 dongle launched in 2013, that was a revelation: finally, an easy way to share those small-screen videos with others on the big screen!

Fast forward six years, and the Chromecast has cemented itself as Google’s primary streaming device. It still achieves its primary goal effortlessly, but its lack of any sort of user interface (also unlike Amazon, Apple TV, Roku), which also makes it a tough sell for some. Why fiddle around with a Chromecast dongle and your phone, when Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV all offer a full-fledged interface, plus a remote for a similar price?

The Chromecast’s success almost took the firm by surprise, Google product manager Rishi Chandra told Fast Company in an interview published Monday. Much like its initial success, its future direction may be hard to predict.

“Sometimes these opportunities that start fairly small end up being much bigger than you ever expected, and I think that’s the case with Chromecast,” Chandra said. “As we see Stadia ramping up, as we see streaming evolving, as we see the hardware business evolve, it’ll be interesting to see what that broader impact is going to be.”

The product was in some ways an accidental win, but that accident is starting to pose problems.

google stadia announcement
Google Stadia will cover a range of devices.

Google Stadia: How the Game Streaming Service May Anchor Chromecast

Stadia could change the conversation around Google’s approach to the living room. The service enables users to play big budget games without big budget hardware, using beefy server hardware to stream to a smartphone, computer or other supported device.

At the firm’s Stadia Connect event, it outlined a strategy that placed Chromecast front-and-center of its big play to take on Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. While it plans to support a variety of devices later next year, its November 2019 launch will see the initial release of a $129.99 Founders Edition. This includes a 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra, three months of Stadia Pro service, and a limited edition controller.

This controller could give some clues about how Google could evolve its Chromecast strategy. The handset uses wifi to directly connect to a nearby router and stream the game, casting to a Chromecast to reduce latency. Unlike other devices that offer a multitude of ways to play, users need the controller to play via Chromecast.

Details are scarce, but it seems Stadia will offer a user interface of some sort when using the service in this manner. After all, without a phone screen, users will need a way to select games. Eurogamer notes in its hands-on story that the Stadia controller offers a user interface, but there’s also a microphone for voice-driven Google Assistant integration.

Android TV could offer a way forward.
Android TV could offer a way forward.

Android TV: Chromecast Joins the Competition

Google Stadia is designed for playing video games, but its setup shows how a remote control peripheral could drive a big-screen interface without disrupting the whole design of Chromecast.

What could that look like? Google already offers Android TV for third-party manufacturers to offer on-screen interfaces. Android TV runs on devices like the Nvidia Shield TV, and the Chromecast team has expressed interest in exploring the strategy further.

“We are coordinating with Android TV in how we want to evolve the TV strategy,” Chandra said in the Monday story.

That could be a smart way forward, particularly as many are already familiar with Android TV whether they realize it or not. Around 10 percent of smart TVs that shipped in 2018 run the operating system, particularly in China, where manufacturers ship customized versions on their screens. Bringing an interface like that to Chromecast could avoid teaching consumers about any new interfaces.

As Chromecast gets older and receives a full-blown interface with peripheral, it could act as a signal to Google.

After a day of burying their heads in smartphones, what people really want to do is kick back with a dumb remote.